SakatoBy Calvin Hada, President, Japanese American Association of CO

On September 21, at the Arvada Center for the Performing Arts, the Japanese American Association of Colorado (JAAC) hosted the 4th Annual Nisei Appreciation Luncheon for Nisei (second generation Japanese) veterans and their spouses/widows. This event is a JAAC favorite because the venue is always full, over 350 strong, and all the feedback is always positive.

“Many of the Nisei attending are no longer able to get around on their own”, said Calvin Hada, President of the JAAC, “And this gives them a very rare opportunity to reconnect with old friends. For a day, at least, their sense of isolation is dispelled.”

Subsequent generations of Japanese Americans owe the Nisei a great deal for their love of education and selfless sacrifice under harsh conditions. During the internment of Japanese Americans, a vast number of young men, the Nisei, enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight the enemies of the U.S., even while their families were behind barbed wire and under machine guns. These Nisei veterans were banded together as separate, Japanese only, units. The most famous was the 442nd Regimental Combat team whose motto was “Go for Broke” and nickname was the “Purple Heart Battalion”.

The first speaker at the luncheon was Denver County Court Judge Kerry Hada who was an Army Ranger with two tours of combat duty in Vietnam. He warned the audience of the residual racism still existing in America and the constant need for vigilance against institutional prejudice.

The keynote speaker was Sam Terasaki who saw action in Europe with the 442nd. Two years ago, he was one of the Colorado delegation who traveled to Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal Citation, the highest civilian honor, first awarded to George Washington.

In his speech to a rapt crowd, Terasaki recounted his experiences in WWII. He then urged the vetrans and their families to put their recollections into record before these precious memories are lost forever. At the conclusion of his speech, Terasaki was given a standing ovation.

The 442nd received eight Presidential Unit Citations and is the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the U.S. Army with 21 Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH) recipients. One of these men was George (Joe) Sakato who led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Sakato was the keynote speaker at the Nisei Memorial Day Service at the Nisei Memorial located at Fairmount Cemetery earlier this spring.

The day after the luncheon, September 22, Sakato was honored at the Rockies game during the 7th inning stretch. The announcer introduced Sakato and described his actions in Europe for which he was rewarded the CMH.

In the ceremony when Sakato received the CMH, then President Clinton, said the actions of the Nisei veterans made names like Sakato, Okubo and Ono into American names. President Roosevelt said to the Nisei veterans, “You fought two enemies; the Germans and prejudice, and you beat them both.” The crowd gave Sakato a rousing standing ovation. Not many of them knew the back story of prejudice overcome by loyalty, but they knew a recipient of the CMH commanded respect.